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Do Hard Things.

Updating my culinary knowledge has been a long-time goal of mine, but as they say, “when you are working in the business, it’s very hard to work on the business.”  Or something like that.  And I know the importance of doing hard things.  It’s part of how we grow as humans.  But things get busy.  And normal life can be hard in itself, so purposefully doing hard things sort of loses its allure. 

So, at the beginning of 2020, with a beautiful and unsuspecting new year stretching before us, I figured now’s the time:  I would apply to challenge the Red Seal exam and become a Red Seal, legit, fully certified Chef.  You may be thinking, “Wait… I thought you were already a chef!”  And yeah, because I am the head of the kitchen at A Fine Fit Catering and I’ve gone to cooking school, I can rightly be considered a chef in that sense.  But Red Seal is a designation that not only opens new doors, it also represents the years of experience and knowledge gained over time.  The standard way to go about becoming a Red Seal certified Chef is to do a 4-year apprenticeship.  When I graduated from school those many, many *ahem* years ago, I ran after opportunities that inspired me–from lead cook at a water park dining room to tree planting camps, but I never did go through an apprenticeship program.  Life happened, with more school and finding a great guy to spend my life with, travel, kids—you know how the story goes I’m sure.

That brings me back to 2020.  The Ontario College of Trades required a package of recommendation letters and various proofs that I’ve put in the hours and learned the skills of the trade before allowing me to write the exam.  In fact, it was way back in March when I received permission.  And then COVID happened.  And exams were shut down across the province.  And then my brides started calling to cancel or postpone their weddings.  And business slowed to a crawl.  So, in hopes that exams would open up soon, I combined homeschooling my three kids with doing my own schooling.  But the test did not open up by June, or even by the summer, as expected.  We ended up buying a house and doing major renos, including recreating a catering kitchen, and this dream went on the back burner. 

Studying long into the evenings became a routine for weeks

And then suddenly, my phone rang one September day with news that exam writing could once again be scheduled.  So began my new life of renovation and studying along with all the other things of life in between.  It was certainly nerve-wracking.  It brought me back to all of my high school insecurities and anxiety around writing exams.  And let me just say, this exam is a doozy:  4 hrs long, full of classical French cuisine terminology and process, with a 70% passing requirement.    

So last Tuesday I finally sat down and tackled the dreaded test and today, my fellow foodies, I found out the results… I passed!  With an 80% no less!  I’m absolutely relieved and pumped! 

See, I’ve always experienced huge insecurity in this male-dominated industry.  A friend of mine in catering tells me this actually has a name: Impostor Syndrome

“A psychological pattern in which an individual doubts their skills, talents or accomplishments and has a persistent internalized fear of being exposed as a fraud.” 

Wikipedia

So, I have to tell you how empowering it is to tell that voice to shut up for a minute because I. Am. A. Chef. 

I’ve really enjoyed the study part of all of this, to be honest, especially the food science! I’m a bit of a nerd in that way, you could say. I’m especially looking forward to sharing this renewed knowledge with all of you foodies in my upcoming cooking classes!

Three amazing women in my life–and in the culinary industry–were incredibly supportive in both urging me to pursue this designation, and in providing materials and help along the way; Jennifer Labine of Jennifer Labine’s gluten free kitchen, Chef Rachel Globensky (a regular contributor to the Walleye and author of Seasons of Thunder Bay cookbook) and Miriah Harp (former owner of Sweet Pea’s Catering). 

Life is full of ways to take shortcuts.  Once in a while, whether it is super practical or not, I want to do hard things. 

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